So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love - by Cal Newport

5 minute read

ISBN: 978-0349415864, READ: 2017-01-30, RATING: 8/10

A great book chastising the common “Follow Your Heart”. Scott Adams too has a similar argument (Passion is Bullshit) in his How to Fail book. Both of these books should be read by everyone in their teens and twenties.

See Amazon Page for details and reviews.

Key Lessons

This book is a validation on the path I’m taking with my career now: namely, become a great programmer. The more I practise deliberately, the more I’ll get paid good for it.

My Highlights

When it comes to creating work you love, following your passion is not particularly useful advice.

“The key thing is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come; that’s the hardest phase,” he says.

“People are in a rush to start their lives, and it’s sad,” he tells his interviewers. “I didn’t go out with the idea of making a big empire,” he explains. “I set goals for myself at being the best I could be at what(ever) I did.”

Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.

“In the movies there’s this idea that you should just go for your dream,” Glass tells them. “But I don’t believe that. Things happen in stages.”

One of the students asks Steele if he had started his PhD program “hoping you’d one day change the world.” “No,” Steele responds, “I just wanted options.”

There are many complex reasons for workplace satisfaction, but the reductive notion of matching your job to a pre-existing passion is not among them.

How can we follow our passions if we don’t have any relevant passions to follow?

A job, in Wrzesniewski’s formulation, is a way to pay the bills, a career is a path toward increasingly better work, and a calling is work that’s an important part of your life and a vital part of your identity.

In other words, the more experience an assistant had, the more likely she was to love her work.

SDT tells us that motivation, in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs—factors described as the “nutriments” required to feel intrinsically motivated for your work:

  • Autonomy: the feeling that you have control over your day, and that your actions are important
  • Competence: the feeling that you are good at what you do
  • Relatedness: the feeling of connection to other people

The traits they did find, by contrast, are more general and are agnostic to the specific type of work in question

Competence and autonomy, for example, are achievable by most people in a wide variety of jobs—assuming they’re willing to put in the hard work required for mastery.

working right trumps finding the right work.

The problem, of course, is when they fail to find this certainty, bad things follow, such as chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt.

In which I introduce two different approaches to thinking about work: the craftsman mindset, a focus on what value you’re producing in your job, and the passion mindset, a focus on what value your job offers you. Most people adopt the passion mindset, but in this chapter I argue that the craftsman mindset is the foundation for creating work you love.

I track the hours spent each month dedicated to thinking hard about research problems

the deep questions driving the passion mindset—“Who am I?” and “What do I truly love?”—are essentially impossible to confirm. “Is this who I really am?” and “Do I love this?” rarely reduce to clear yes-or-no responses.

No one owes you a great career, it argues; you need to earn it—and the process won’t be easy.

am suggesting that you put aside the question of whether your job is your true passion, and instead turn your focus toward becoming so good they can’t ignore you. That is, regardless of what you do for a living, approach your work like a true performer.

If you spend too much time focusing on whether or not you’ve found your true calling, the question will be rendered moot when you find yourself out of work.

“The key thing is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come; that’s the hardest phase,”


The traits that define great work are rare and valuable.

Supply and demand says that if you want these traits you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. Think of these rare and valuable skills you can offer as your career capital.

To successfully adopt the craftsman mindset, therefore, we have to approach our jobs in the same way that Jordan approaches his guitar playing or Garry Kasparov his chess training—with a dedication to deliberate practice.

Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands…. Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it “deliberate,” as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.

If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an “acceptable level.”

The “business” he referenced, as is the case with many lifestyle designers, was his blog about being a lifestyle designer. In other words, his only product was his enthusiasm about not having a “normal” life.

“Do what people are willing to pay for.”

“Money is a neutral indicator of value. By aiming to make money, you’re aiming to be valuable.”

When deciding whether to follow an appealing pursuit that will introduce more control into your work life, seek evidence of whether people are willing to pay for it. If you find this evidence, continue. If not, move on.

A good career mission is similar to a scientific breakthrough—it’s an innovation waiting to be discovered in the adjacent possible of your field. If you want to identify a mission for your working life, therefore, you must first get to the cutting edge—the only place where these missions become visible.

breakthroughs require that you first get to the cutting edge, and this is hard—the type of hardness that most of us try to avoid in our working lives.

This was the trap tripped, for example, by the many fans of lifestyle design, who left their traditional jobs to try to make a living on passive income-generating websites. Many of these contrarians quickly discovered that the income-generating piece of that plan doesn’t work well if you don’t have something valuable to offer in exchange for people’s money.